The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Girlfriend borrows car but doesn’t refill the gas tank


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My girlfriend has borrowed my car several times over the past month (she’s moving) and has not once refilled the gas tank. This should be a softball (“Hey, please refill the gas tank next time you use the car”), but in context a tough one for me because most of the problems we’ve had in our relationship have been due to my instinct toward bean-counting. She stopped keeping track of who paid for what years ago and has expressed offense when I ask to be paid back for things.

What’s a graceful way to skirt this, or should I just let the gas go?


“She stopped keeping track”? That can mean she gives generously and without regard for balance . . . or takes copiously without regard for balance. If it’s the former, then forget the gas tank (please) — and give some careful thought to why you’re still bean-counting despite her generosity with you.

If instead she has been blithe about taking your money while offering up very little of her own — and she attacks you anytime you so much as sigh in frustration over it — then you need to accept that your girlfriend is a taker. And a manipulative one, since her “expressed offense” has you questioning — and censoring — yourself when your doubts about her behavior flare up.

If this is the scenario that rings a bell, then get out and eat the gas money as a small price to pay for enlightenment.

Either way — when you’re at a point where you feel you can’t be honest with your girlfriend, then it’s not, it’s never, just about the current bone of contention.

Dear Carolyn:

I’m dating a woman who is beautiful, accomplished and smart as a whip. So why can I not get past the fact that she’s been married three times?


What’s the rush to get past it? Her marriages aren’t her whole story, but they’re an important (and probably fascinating) set of chapters in her story. If you care about her and are trying on the idea of a future with her, then you need to read the chapters very carefully and figure out what they say.

Hi, Carolyn:

My son wants to go to New York University. We live in Florida. He hasn’t traveled much, has never been to New York and isn’t very independent. We are concerned he will make an expensive wrong choice. He’s considering two Florida universities but feels like the students will be too conservative for him. I am dreading a showdown if we say no or a debacle if he goes. Help.

College Bound

Way to have faith in the lad. Time to bring him to visit New York, no? And to encourage his independence, regardless of setting?

You sound to me — and so probably sound to him — as if you just want him in Florida and will argue whatever is necessary to accomplish this. That’s a sure way to make a kid gaze longingly at your worst-case scenario.

Back off, please, and encourage him to take the initiative, to explore what interests him. The more you use your parental influence, the less you have for later; think carefully before spending any on this.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at

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